On Monday, June 18, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that California courts could not preside over class action suits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs, reasoning that there is an insufficient connection between the forum state and the claims. The plaintiffs in the case brought suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb (“BMS”) in California state court, alleging that they suffered injuries from the blood thinner Plavix. The case involved several hundred individuals from 33 states, including 86 California residents.
The California Supreme Court found that out-of-state plaintiffs had standing to bring suit against BMS in California state courts. BMS then took the matter up to the Supreme Court, which in turn found in favor of the large corporation. In the Opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: ” The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims. […]What is needed is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.”
Justice Sotomayor dissented, writing: “A core concern in this Court’s personal jurisdiction cases is fairness. And there is nothing unfair about subjecting a massive corporation to suit in a State for a nationwide course of conduct that injures both forum residents and nonresidents alike.” She further wrote, “the effect of today’s opinion will be to curtail— and in some cases eliminate—plaintiffs’ ability to hold corporations fully accountable for their nationwide conduct.”
This is true, and the decision seems to place corporate interests above individual interests. Lawsuits such as these will now be significantly less attractive to law firms, and plaintiffs will have a harder time finding someone to represent them. It will also make it far more difficult to bring suit against multiple corporations, which often are located in different states. The overall negative, ripple effects of this ruling on consumer rights remain to be seen, but they are sure to be significant. Consumers and plaintiff attorneys now must begin the hard work of coming up with creative solutions to this curtailment to consumers’ rights.